Elephant Protocols, Manuals, and Proceedings

Practical Elephant Management:
A Handbook for Mahouts

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Elephant Welfare Association
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Wildlife Protection Act
Life of Wild Elephants
Man-Elephant Conflict - Case Study in North Bengal

Elephant Capture and Training in Kerala Forest Department
Elephant Capturing in North-eastern India


M.I. Verghese


In 1972, the Indian Parliament passed the Wildlife Protection Act, to establish a standardised national policy for wildlife protection in the country. In 1973 June 1st, this Wildlife Protection Act was endorsed in Kerala by its State Parliament. The law has 68 sections pertaining to various aspects of wildlife conservation.

Schedule - I of the Wildlife Protection Act

There are 6 Schedules in the Wildlife Protection Act. Initially there were only 5 but in 1991 a 6th schedule was introduced. The Schedule I animals are those that face the threat of extinction due to poaching and trade and have very small existing populations in the wild. The elephant is placed under the category 12-A of Schedule I proving that it is an animal facing the threat of extinction. The animals in the Schedule I and part II of Schedule I are under strict government protection.

Protocols for Schedule - I Animals

Since the elephant is a Schedule -I animal, the following protocols apply to both captive and wild elephants.

1.Declaration of ownership:

The 40th-44th sections of the Wildlife Protection Act are directly related to Schedule I animals and also to the animals in part II of Schedule II. The 40th section requires the owners of animals belonging to the above mentioned categories, to declare their ownership to the Government that they possess these particular animals. This claim should be documented, within one month of acquiring the animal. The Chief Wildlife Warden of the state, or the District Forest Officer may be contacted for the same.

Ownership certificate:

The law requires the elephant owners to register their elephants at the District Forest Officer’s office. Though this Act was passed in Kerala State in 1973, most of the elephants in captivity are not registered with the government. Many elephant owners are unaware of or insensitive to, this requirement which constitutes a clear violation of the act and is punishable.


To apply for an ownership certificate, the applicant has to fill up form no-13, which is available at every District Range Office. The completed form is sent to the Chief Conservator’s office who informs the applicant, (on form no-14) through the DFO's office, that his elephant would be inspected by officials on a certain date. The inspecting officer will inspect the tethering area, take measurements of the elephant and prepare a report on form no-15 and send it to the Conservator’s office in the capital. The applicant will be issued an ownership certificate (on form No -16) after the authorities are convinced of the elephant's identity and satisfied with its health condition.


The charges for violation of this protocol are stated in Section - 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act, and it entails a 1-6 year prison sentence or payment of Rs 5000 as fine. If the person is charged for repeating the offence, his punishment is doubled. An owner who is ignorant of the law, is permitted by the authorities, to apply for an ownership certificate. The charges were amended in 1991.

2.Transfer or transportation of elephants:

To transfer an elephant from one place to another, the owner must inform the officer concerned, i.e., the Range Officer


The applicant must receive permission from the range officer, on form no-4, which requires the applicant to submit his ownership certificate or registration number. In the absence of an ownership certificate, the forest officers inform the owners to apply for a registration certificate. If this condition has been satisfied, the elephant is inspected by a veterinary surgeon to ensure the health condition of the animal and to see if the animal is fit enough to make the journey by foot or vehicle. If the veterinarian agrees to send the animal on the journey, the officers would issue a Transport - Permit or form no - 6 to the applicant. In Kerala, elephants are often brought from Bihar and U.P. and the licence or ownership certificate is not renewed. The certificate of registration done in other states is valid only up to a period of 1 month. After which, the certificate has to be renewed or the elephant has to be re-registered in the current state of domicile.

3. Elephant attacks:

The Act addresses issues related to wildlife invasion or attack, on human beings. If wild elephants attacked a village or a house or destroyed several acres of plantation and crops, the victims are likely to be compensated by the government. In 1980, the state passed a provision for the victims of attack by the animals enlisted in the Wildlife Protection Act. A sum of Rs. 10,000 is paid for loss of life, and handicap and Rs 5000 depending on the extent of damage.


The victim has to apply for his re-imbursement to the Range Officer of the concerned range. The Range Officer would forward this application to the District Forest Officer who will sanction the amount to the descendants of the victim in case of loss of life or compensate for the damage to property. There are certain conditions to receiving or issuing compensations. If the victim has been killed or attacked because he/she ventured into the restricted forest area, he/she will not be compensated, but will be compensated, if the victim was attacked while he/she were on the public road. Similarly if the victim was attacked at his/her patta (or - allotted) piece of land in the forest or the road leading to it, he/she is eligible for the compensation. The compensation does not apply to captive or domestic elephants. If any mahout or any individual were to be attacked by a captive elephant he will not be compensated.

Wild elephants that are a threat to humans, may be removed with orders from the Chief Conservator of Forests. The law has a provision for killing wild animals of Schedule -I that become dangerous to humans beings.

4. Elephant Trophies:

An ownership certificate is also required for possessing the body parts of a Schedule-I animals also called as "Trophies". It is commonly seen that people posses several items in their homes made of Ivory, and furnishings made of elephant’s body parts. The hairs in the elephant tail are popular as jewellery. It is illegal to keep trophies of animals belonging to schedule - I of the Wildlife protection act without proper permit. The trophies have to be declared voluntarily to the nearest forest officer and a certificate of ownership has to be obtained.

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Dr. P.S.Easa,

Elephants have been associated with man since time immemorial. It has been an object of worship and embodiment of strength, size and intelligence. The Indian culture is so much associated with this animal that earlier literature has recorded observations on elephants in detail. The present day knowledge on Asian elephants in the wild come from several studies conducted in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India.

Distribution and Habitat

Asian elephant was once distributed from Tigris and Euphrates Valleys of Syria and Iraq to the yellow river of China and South to Sumatra (Daniel, 1995). At present it is confined to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In India, it exists as four populations. The four populations are distributed in the South, Central, Northwest and Northeast regions in India.

In South India, they are distributed in the forests of Western and Eastern Ghats in the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Elephants in the Eastern Ghats in Orissa and Bihar states form the Central population. Terai forest regions of Uttar Pradesh along the foothills of Himalayas form the population in the North Western India. The North-eastern population is distribute over the Himalayan foothills of Bhutan and North West Bengal eastwards into the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. The habitat of these populations are further fragmented dividing these into isolated populations. Thus, about ten sub populations could be identified within the South Indian population.

Elephants in Kerala exist as seven populations.

  1. Agasthyamala: It consists of those within the Neyyar, Peppara, Shenduruny and Kulathupuzha areas south of Ariankavu pass. This region has contiguity with Mundanthurai-Kalakkad of Tamil Nadu.
  2. Periyar: This is distributed from the north of Ariankavu pass and include Ranni, Konni, Achenkovil, extending upto the borders of Periyar Tiger Reserve. The east of this region is the Varashanadu hills.
  3. Idukki: Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary and the forests of adjacent Ayyappankovil and Nagarampara Reserves harbour an isolated and probably the most disturbed population of about 100 elephants.
  4. Anamalai: The areas under the forest divisions of Malayatoor, Munnar, Vazhachal, Chalakudy, Parambikulam, Nemmara and Munnar (Wildlife) is contiguous with Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and Palni hills of Tamil Nadu. This population could be considered to have a larger extent of forests with comparatively less disturbance.
  5. Palakkad: Forests of Walayar and Muthikulam Reserve was once contiguous with the adjacent forests of Silent Valley and Attappadi. At present, this has contiguity with part of Shiruvani area of Tamil Nadu.
  6. Silent Valley - Nilambur: This population occupies the areas of Attappadi, Silent Valley, Nilambur and part of Wayanad (Meppadi). The contiguity with the Nilgiris and Anakkatti of Tamil Nadu further extends the area available to elephants in the region.
  7. The Wayanad population exists in Kerala part as two due to the discontinuity within the State. However, these populations are connected through forests of Karnataka. The southern Wayanad population within Kerala are in Kurichiat, Muthanga and Bathery areas. The northern population are distributed over Tholpetty, Begur, Kottiyoor and Aralam areas which are connected to the Kuttiadi - Thamarassery regions through a narrow belt of forest at Periyar.


Elephant is a wide ranging animal requiring larger extent of continuous stretch of forests for food, water and shelter. Studies conducted in the wild on the home range of elephants have indicated that a herd of elephant would require a minimum area of about 650 km². The home range size may vary according to the regions, the vegetation type which inturn is reflected in the food and water availability. The home range size was about 150 km2 in Parambikulam , 115 km² in Sathyamangalam and 650 km² in Mudumalai. there could be seasonal variations in home range size depending on the environmental factors.

Seasonal Migration

Seasonal movements of elephant herds have been recorded from different elephant ranges. Studies in Mudumalai, Sathyamangalam forests, Parambikulam, Wayanad and other areas have indicated that these movements are mostly influenced by water and food availability.


Elephants with its large sized body produce metabolic heat. The colour of the skin absorbs more heat and this combined with the absence of sweat gland force the animal to go for a thermoregulatory mechanism through behavioural changes. Elephants in the wild normally spend the hottest period of the day in the shade of the trees reducing the activity to a considerable extent. Further, they also go for wallowing in muddy waters which help them to keep their skin moist.


Observations of elephants in the wild have indicated that it spends about more than 70% of the time for feeding. However, there are seasonal differences depending on the availability of food and also on the variation in diurnal temperature. The time spent for resting and wallowing sharply increase in dry season and there is a reduction in the time spent for feeding.

Elephant is a polyphagous animal feeding on a number of plant species belonging to different family. Observations have indicated utilisation of 93 species in Parambikulam and 112 species in Sathyamangalam area. A major share of the food species are of grasses and sedges. Grasses, bamboos (again a grass) and reed are the most utilised. There are seasonal differences in the utilisation of plant species and also plant parts. The high crowned molar teeth with their rasp like surface are structured for grinding fibrous and siliceous food materials. The prehensile trunk also help them to deal with a food material of any size and range.

Polyphagous animals such as elephants have the advantage of surviving even in an environment of scarcity. Availability of a range of nutrients can also be ensured by feeding on a variety of species in addition to the most preferred ones. Thus, elephants have the ability to utilise the available resources in a very efficient way. During the pinch period of summer when grasses are scarce and of low nutritive value, they go for an increased quantity of intake.

They feed a lot on the bark of various tree species. Bark feeding has been reported to be in response to deficiency in essential fatty acids such as lenoleic acid in other food species and found in higher quantities in bark. Further, higher contents of minerals such as manganese, iron, copper, boron, calcium and sodium in tree barks have also been reported as reasons for the bark feeding behaviour of elephants.

Elephants are reported to consume between 1.5% (dry season) and 1.9% (wet season) of their body weight in twelve hours of feeding. There is not much studies on the mineral requirement of Asian elephants. A 3000 kg cow elephant may require 60 g. of calcium daily. An adult elephant require 75-100 g. of sodium. They need a large quantity of water. Evidences indicate a requirement of about 100 litres of water at one time and up to 225 litres in a day.

Many authors have debated on the question whether it is grazer or browser. Studies in most of the elephant ranges have indicated that they are both grazers and browsers. However, the proportion of both grass and browse species in the diet vary according to seasons. Certain authors have indicated that the foraging efficiency of elephants on grass is high (80%) compared to feeding on browse (50%). More often the selection of food species, whether it is grass or browse, depends on the nutritive value and also the secondary toxic compounds in the plant species. The digestive system is reported to be highly sensitive to plants’ toxic secondary compounds

Social life

Elephant is a social animal and live in herds. The herd will have elephants of different age sex classes. The calves are protected by all the members of the herd. The herd size vary according to the season and resource availability. It is also influenced by environmental factors such as water availability, disturbance and also by other biotic pressures. Herds of even up to 62 have been reported in Asian elephants. The matriarchal system in elephants have been well established. There could be all male herds also. Most of the solitary elephants are bulls.


Loss/degradation of habitat

Elephants because of their wide ranging habit require larger areas. Loss of habitats have been the major threat to the animal. Fragmentation and degradation of habitat have also affected most of the populations.

Man-elephant conflict

Man-elephant conflict has been identified as one of the major problems to be solved to ensure their survival in most of the ranges. The problem is always on the increase because of degradation /conversion /fragmentation of habitat. Crop raiding and manslaughter have been reported from several places in India. This conflict often leads to the death of the animal or at least inflict serious injuries.

Population status

Ivory is a much sought after commodity within and outside the country. Most of the populations of Asian elephants have a highly skewed sex ratio favouring females. This may range from 1:5 to 1:100 in certain cases. Such trends have been reported in the case of polygynous animals due to increased mortality of males among the calves and juveniles. Since the elephants are not seasonal breeders, it is also possible that all the females in the population could be mated by the available males. However, the genetic heterozygoity will be definitely affected. This is especially true of isolated populations with low population sizes. The selective removal of males from the population through poaching could also affect the behaviour of the animal to a great extent.

The increasing number of makhnas in most of the population have been a matter of great concern to conservationists. The long term effect of such changes cannot be predicted at present but could be not for good.

It is important that a minimum viable population is maintained in all the areas for long term survival. These population may also be ensured enough contiguous habitats. The Project Elephant launched by Government of India envisages long term survival of the species ensuring minimum viable population, larger extent of areas, improvement of habitat, mitigation of man-elephant conflict problems and affording protection to the animal from poachers.

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S.S. Bist


People dealing with wild elephants know that it is generally a shy animal, avoiding human beings and loving its privacy within the forests. At the same time the elephant is also a wild and mighty animal. Its requirement of food and living space is also very large. It is, therefore, only natural that it should come in contact with human beings sometimes or the other and some problem should arise. In fact, cases of crop damage and occasional man-killing by wild elephants have been recorded since time immemorial in all elephant areas. People have also been killing or injuring elephants in defence of their life and property. But such cases used to be few and far between in the past. In the recent years, however, elephants have been observed to be straying out of forests much more frequently and causing large scale depredation in human localities.

As we know, elephant is an endangered animal and whole-hearted attempts are being made by the Government and other agencies to protect it. For the success of all such attempts, co-operation of the public is a must, but public co-operation can not be obtained in all such areas where elephants have become a serious problem for the life and property of human beings. Therefore, control of man-elephant conflict has become a very important issue for elephant management in India today.


Depredation by elephants is usually of the following types:

  1. Killing or injuring of human beings -- such cases are mostly accidental in nature, and nervousness and confusion on the part of the elephant and the victim lead to such accidents. However, occasionally, there are some confirmed "rogue" elephants who would deliberately chase human beings and kill them. Experience shows that solitary elephants are involved in man killing more frequently than herd elephants.
  2. Crop raiding -- Most of the depredation by elephants is in the form of crop raiding. More or less, all wild elephants indulge in crop raiding whenever they get an opportunity. Experience in the Northern part of West Bengal suggests that wild herds indulge in crop raiding only in particular months when the crop matures but cause maximum damage. On the other hand, solitary elephants visit agricultural fields almost round the year but do not cause much damage.
  3. House breaking -- Elephants may indulge in house breaking for various reasons -- search for food grains, salt or country liquor or for rescuing their calves if they have ventured inside a house. In North Bengal, most of the house-breaking cases take place in tea gardens. Sometimes there are desperate solitary elephants who are habitual house breakers.
  4. Loss of livestock -- Cases of elephants killing buffaloes and other livestock are reported from time to time.


3.1 Accurate figures regarding depredation by elephants in India are not available, but the extent of depredation is believed to be very large. In North Bengal, wild elephants occur only in the two districts, viz. Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, and records of elephant depredation are regularly maintained. The following figures would indicate the extent of the problem in North Bengal.

3.2 Human casualties



















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3.3 Crop damage -- It is estimated that crops over 4000-4500 ha of agricultural land are destroyed by elephants every year in North Bengal.

3.4 House damage -- Approximately, 1000-1200 houses are demolished every year by elephants in N. Bengal.

3.5 Compensation-- Government of West Bengal pays compensation to the victims of elephant depredation. Expenditure incurred by the Government on payment of compensation during the last few years is as follows:


Rs. 23.64 lakhs

(2.36 millions)


Rs. 26.11 lakhs



Rs. 22.34 lakhs

(2.234 million)


Rs. 21.91 lakhs

(2.191 million)

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3.6 The State Government also spends Rs.40-45 lakh every year on anti-depredation measures. Tea gardens in North Bengal also suffer great economic losses on account of house damages and reduced production due to labour problems tormented by elephant depredation.

3.7 Considering the fact that there are only 186 wild elephants in North Bengal as per 1992 census, it can be inferred that the extent of depredation is abnormal, and the Government of West Bengal and the people of North Bengal are paying a very high price for the protection of these elephants.


It will be wrong to assume that only the people are the losers in this conflict with the elephants or that the elephants are enjoying the situation. In fact, condition of elephants in all conflict areas is very pathetic. Quoting from the North Bengal experience, the elephants are very much harassed-chased and disturbed constantly as they are, wherever they go. Number of wild elephants bearing injuries on account of arrows or bullets shot at them by the local villagers and tea garden labourers, is very high. Cases of elephant herds abandoning their calves are becoming common. Incidences of poaching of wild elephants are also not uncommon. Thus the elephants are under extreme state of stress on account of man-elephant conflict.


It is difficult to pinpoint a single factor responsible for the conflict. Often more than one factor cause the problem. Some major causes are discussed below:

5.1 Habitat destruction

In the recent years, forests have been destroyed in many areas for agricultural land, tea gardens, factories, refugee-colonies, army cantonments, roads, railways, irrigation projects etc. As a result, forests inhabited by elephants have shrunk and become fragmented. Elephants being a long ranging animal can not remain confined to a particular forest area for long. In small fragmented forests elephants come in contact with human beings more frequently than in large compact forests and thus the chances of man-elephant conflict increase.

5.2 Grazing

Grazing by cattle is a serious problem in Indian forests. Cattle not only deprive elephants and other wild herbivores of their legitimate fodder but also spread many diseases among them. Scarcity of fodder may force elephants to spend less time in a forest than they otherwise do and may make them more inclined to raid agricultural lands.

5.3 Defective forestry practices

Some of the practices followed by the state forest departments, such as clear felling of large tracts of forests and conversion of natural forests in to plantations of teak, eucalyptus, and other non-fodder species, have resulted in degradation of many forest areas which now can not hold elephants for a long period as in the past.

5.4 Lure of agricultural crops

An elephant is a huge animal requiring 250-300 kg of fodder every day. In forests, an elephant may have to spend 16-20 hours daily to gather its food. In an agricultural land, however, an elephant gets substantial quantity of nutritious food over a smaller area with the least effort. Elephant being an intelligent animal, it is obvious that he prefers to raid over agricultural fields once he has the taste of it and more so if there is a scarcity of fodder in the forests.

5.5 Over exposure to human beings
Movements of human beings in most forests of India has increased tremendously. Every day many people enter forests for grazing their cattle, collecting fodder or fire-wood, or for other purposes. Thus they come in contact with elephants more frequently than in the past. Elephant is basically a shy animal and tends to keep away from human beings. But over exposure to human beings makes elephants lose their inherent fear of man and makes them desperate.

5.6 It can, therefore, be seen that man himself is the cause of conflict with elephants in most of the cases.


Measures for controlling man-elephant conflict can be divided into two categories, viz. the short term measures and the long term measures. Short term measures aim at providing immediate relief to the people against depredation by elephants. Long term measures aim at removing the factors responsible for elephant depredation and at creating ideal living conditions for elephants within forests. As regards short term measures no single method is effective in all cases against all elephants. Elephants are known to exhibit remarkable intelligence in finding out the limitations of various methods and adapt themselves accordingly. What, therefore, is required is constant improvisation of various methods keeping the psychology and physical capabilities of the elephant in mind. Both short term and long term methods should go hand in hand if the problem has to be resolved fully.

6.1 Short Term Measures

6.1.1 Driving away elephants physically using searchlights and crackers. (In North Bengal, Forest Department has engaged "Wildlife Squads" to help the people in chasing away elephants from localities.)

6.1.2 Destruction of confirmed man-killers ("Rogues").

6.1.3 Capturing of elephants to control their population.

6.1.4 Use of trained elephants (koonkie) to chase away wild elephants.

6.1.5 Tranquillising the problematic elephants and relocating them to safer places.

6.1.6. Use of barriers (Elephant - proof trench, watch towers and electric fencings).

6.2 Long Term Measures

6.2.1 Habitat Development Works

Felling of natural forests in India is now banned under law. In many states, forest departments have taken up programmes for replacing pure plantations of teak, eucalyptus etc. with indigenous fodder species. In North Bengal, bamboos and other fodder species liked by elephants are being planted on a large scale in various sanctuaries and national parks and even outside to improve the quality of forests and induce elephants to spend more time inside forests.

6.2.2 Eco-Development Works

Eco-development works are being undertaken in villages surrounding various national parks and sanctuaries in India. The objective is to reduce the dependency of the people over forests for grazing, firewood and other requirements and thus, to control biotic interference in forests. Eco-development works also aim at improving the relationship of the forest staff with the local people and to ensure the involvement of the people in the protection of forests and wildlife.

6.2.3 Corridors

In some states in India, corridors linking one forest inhabited by elephants with another forest have been identified. These corridors would be suitably improved to ensure adequate cover and fodder, and human interference would be removed from there. It is expected that these corridors would facilitate free seasonal movement of elephants without coming in to conflict with human beings.


Experience tells us that the extent of depredation by elephants can be greatly reduced by observing certain precautions and by taking preventive measures. An analysis of the pattern of depredation and the psychology of the elephants involved, would suggest many such measures. For example, in North Bengal, the Forest Department has been recommending the following precautionary measures to the villagers and the residents of tea gardens:

7.1 Tea garden authorities have been advised to get their labour colonies electrified and to provide street-lights at the entry points of the elephants in to the garden. Experience tells that wild elephants in general are shy of electric lights. Moreover, people can protect themselves against elephants in a better manner in the presence of electric lights than otherwise.

7.2 Local people are also warned against storing "haria" - a rice based country liquor, in their houses because elephants are believed to be fond of this and are attracted by its smell. People are also warned against moving around in intoxicated condition after sunset because they can not protect themselves against the elephants.

7.3 Villagers are advised not to grow bamboos, bananas, jack fruit and all such plants very close to their houses as may attract elephants. Villagers are also advised to keep the hedge around their houses short so that they can get a better view of the approaching elephants.

7.4 People are also advised to spray phenol or use any other foul smelling substance on the walls of their houses. It is believed that elephants, who have got an acute smelling power, keep away from foul smell.

7.5 People are also advised to stay put within their houses rather than run helter skelter when an elephant is around. They are much safer indoors than outdoors where they may accidentally run into the elephant and get killed.

7.6 It has been observed that wild elephants have more inclination to break houses with walls white-washed or painted with bright colours than those with green, ochre or earth coloured walls. Tea garden authorities are advised to keep this fact in view while constructing or repairing labour huts.

7.7. In areas where crop depredation by elephants is a regular problem, villagers are advised not to grow paddy or maize but to go for jute, potato and any other crop which is not eaten by elephants.

7.8 People are also warned no to cause injury to an elephant using arrows, bullets, fire or any other means. An injured elephant is mush more dangerous and may turn in to a habitual man-killer.


As stated earlier, man-elephant conflict is basically a man-made problem. Therefore, to solve the problem man, rather than elephant, should mend his ways. The problem can be greatly reduced if people stop disturbing forests and take suitable precautionary measures. It is possible that man and elephant can live in peaceful co-existence. This can be achieved through intensive publicity among the people and by providing suitable training to them. In North Bengal, the Forest Department has already initiated such a publicity and training programme.

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Dr. Girinadhan Nair

History of elephant capture

The Indian elephant has been declared as a Schedule - 1 animal, by the Wildlife Protection Act, meaning, it is a highly endangered species. Wild elephants are facing the threat of extinction due to poaching and habitat destruction. In 1973, the Indian government officially banned elephant capture, to prevent the depletion of wild elephant population. How ever, elephants that encroach into human habitations are captured by the forest department.

In the past, elephants were abundant in forests and were captured in large numbers, to be trained to suit human needs. There have been references in an ancient Greek text, by Megasthenes, as early as 2000 B.C., about elephant capture and training. In India elephant capture was carried out by various methods and they were: Pit method, Kheddah, Noose or trap method, Decoys and spearing. Various regions of India, practised various methods of capture.

Pit method

In Kerala, elephant capture operations were carried out by the pit method, during the months of July, August, and September, which coincides with the S. west monsoon. Elephant herds, while travelling in search of waterholes and fodder, form regular paths or 'walks', in the forests. The forest guards and watchers, who tracked these ‘walks’, would inform the concerned forest official, such as Range Officer and pits would be dug along these paths. Elephant capture in Kerala, was carried out in some important forest ranges like Konni, Kodanadu, Muthanga, Nilambur, Parambikulam (forest), and Chetalathu.

The pits were arranged in sets, where a set consisted of 3 pits, arranged in a triangle. 40-60 such sets of pits were dug, in a range alone. The dimensions of the pits were as follows

Distance between each pit, in a set - 20-25 feet. (7 - 8 mt)

Diameter between each pit - 12 feet (4 mt)

Depth of each pit - 12 feet (4 mt)

The pits were narrow, or tapering towards the bottom, to minimise the intensity of injury, caused to the elephant, due to the fall. While an elephant were falling, its body would strike against the sides, thus minimising the shock, during the fall. While preparing the pit, the mud that had been dug out, was removed far away from the pit. The pits were camouflaged with vegetation. Rafters were placed across the pit, vertically and horizontally, and dried twigs and leaves were laid out, across the top. The camouflage had to blend with the rest of the surroundings. Since the pits were dug during September and March, the dried leaves falling from nearby trees covered the area naturally and it became impossible even for humans to identify the pits.

The site for digging the pits had to be chosen very carefully keeping in mind the following points.

  • Rocky areas had to be avoided, as the elephant could be severely injured during the fall.
  • The earth had to be loose and soft to make it easier for digging.
  • There had to be several strong trees around the area, to chain the elephant and to fasten ropes, when the elephant was being taken out.
  • Ample water supply was essential for the koonkie elephants assisting the operation.

The pits were lined inside with grass from the forest, about 6 feet deep. The grass and brush wood was renewed every two weeks, as they dried up quickly in summer. Every morning the watchers or guards inspected the pits for trapped elephants and reported to their respective senior officers. Not all elephants that were trapped were captured. They were selected on the basis of their height, age and size. Elephants between 6 1/2 - 7 1/2 feet height, sub adults and cow elephants were preferred, as they were considered easier to handle and train. Larger tuskers, cows with very young calves and aged elephants, were released back into the forest. The wild caught had to be smaller than the koonkie elephants.

To prevent elephants escaping, huge trees were chopped down and laid across the pit. Special ropes were prepared, from the bark of the Vakka tree, (Streculia villosa), to noose the wild elephant in the pit. Fresh ropes were prepared for each operation, as their quality deteriorated with time. The number of koonkies to be used, depended on the size of the wild caught. No more than 3 koonkies were necessary for a capture operation.

The mahouts offered prayers to the mountain Gods, before removing the elephant from the pit. The wild elephant was noosed by experienced mahouts. The elephant was noosed on both the hind feet and the neck. The elephant's neck was measured in an interesting manner. One of the persons involved in the capture would attempt to distract the elephant using a white cloth, while the others would insert a long pole into the pit, to measure its height. The girth of the neck is calculated as 7/8 th of the height and a noose of the same dimension, was made. A peg was inserted between the knot on the noose, to prevent it from strangling the elephant.

Applying the noose required skill and courage. It was applied using bamboo poles or by lassoing. A second noose had to be applied, which had to run under the first one. Both these nooses had to be connected to the peg around the first noose, with a small knot called the cherukettu. The cherukettu was tied by experienced mahouts, who had to lean over the pit. A knot was tied around his waist, the other end of which was held by strong men.

To bind one of the hind legs, the noose was placed on the floor of the pit and was tightened around the elephant's legs, as soon as it placed its legs accidentally over the noose. A second noose was tied around the other leg, after the elephant emerged from the pit. The koonkies held the free ends of the ropes, around the hind leg and the loose ends of the two ropes, from the neck on either sides. The elephants were assisted out of the pit by means of billets, which were added to the pit after noosing. The billets had to be added slowly and carefully, to prevent the elephants from escaping.

As soon as the elephant was out, the capture team proceeded to an even ground preferably, along the banks of a river. The elephant had to be given plenty of water to drink, and had to be cooled by periodical sprays.

Elephant kraal

Some elephant kraals continue to exist from the old days and are used to house weaned calves or ailing elephants. The elephants were brought to the camp site and enkralled, with the assistance of koonkies. The entire kraal can be divided into six sections, of 12 square feet each, with one single roof. The wood of thambakam was used to build a Kraal, because it is very strong and could not be easily destroyed, by the elephant. The roof was built about 20 feet high from the floor.

Elephant training

The training takes place in 3 stages. Elephant training is still carried out for calves and wild caught elephants in some elephant camps.

  • Training within the Kraal.
  • Training outside the Kraal.
  • Training to perform logging operations.

Training within the Kraal.

After the elephants were enkralled, two mahouts were assigned to train it. They first treated the elephant for bruises sustained, from the fall into the pit. The medicinal preparation used, was a mixture of several herbs and this was splashed onto the body. The mahout tried to build up a relationship with the elephant by giving vocal commands, to familiarise the elephant with his voice. The commands were repeated constantly and the elephant was rewarded with tit bits of food or verbal approval, when it obeyed the commands. During the initial stages of training, the mahouts used only the stick, to restrain the elephant.

The mahouts were expected to spend lots of time with the elephant to develop a bond between him and his elephant. After a certain period, when the mahout felt comfortable enough to trust the elephant and vice versa, he would try and place one leg inside the cage and continue training in this manner. Later, smaller cages were built within the actual Kraal, to let the mahout get closer to the elephant and enable him to safely clean the Kraal. During this period, the mahout had to be wary of the elephant's movements, for his own safety. Towards the end of the training, the mahout had to fasten ropes and chains, on the elephant to familiarise it with the idea of being chained.

Training outside the Kraal

With the help of koonkies, the elephants were taken out of the Kraal and walked to the river, to be familiarised with scrub baths. This was carried out every morning for two weeks, until the elephant was accustomed to the new environment outside the Kraal and also to being bathed, by its mahouts. The walk to the river also familiarised the elephant, with the sounds and sights of civilisation. The mahout had to constantly reassure the elephant and help it get over its fears.

Training to perform logging operations

Training elephants to perform timber hauling operations is a complex job. There have to be at least two mahouts or trainers, during the training period, which may last for two years Training elephants to perform timber hauling operations is a complex job. There have to be at least two mahouts or trainers, during the training period, which may last for two years.

Uses of elephants

  1. Elephants in the past, were used for battles and wars. With the invention and use of guns and canons, elephants ceased going for wars.
  2. Elephants are used for various religions events in India. In Kerala they are an important part of the temple activities like ezhunnallippu.
  3. Elephants are used in logging operations. In the forest types of Asia, where the land is uneven and sometimes very steep, elephants are very useful to carry out logging.

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Parbati Baruah

1. Elephants are captured in Assam and the other North-Eastern states either by "KHEDDA" or "MELA SHIKAR".


There are two variations of Khedda as practised in Assam, viz., the Pung Garh and the Dandi Garh.

2.1 Pung Garh

"Pung", in local dialect, refers to a natural source of salt used by wild animals. In this method, a big enclosure (called stockade) of stout wooden poles is erected at a convenient place near a natural salt-lick , but away from the path taken by the elephants to reach the saltlick. The stockade is suitably camouflaged from inside as well as outside. The approach to the stockade is shaped like a funnel (called "Rangi" in local dialect) by suitably dressing the nearby forests and by using wooden posts and brushwood if so needed. Persons atop watch towers keep watch over the movement of elephant herds to the saltlick. As soon as a herd starts its return journey from the salt lick, it is obstructed on the way and driven carefully by shikaris and "beaters" towards the "rangi" using crackers and other noise-making instruments. As soon as the herd enters the stockade, its gate is slammed shut , using a trapping mechanism. A wide trench runs inside the stockade along the wall to dissuade the elephants from using their full might to break through the stockade. Help of koonki elephants is taken to noose and bring out the wild elephants selected for domestication. Usually big and old elephants, pregnant elephants or those with suckling calves and elephants below 4 feet of height are permitted to escape.

2.2 Dandi Garh

In local parlance,"Dandi" refers to the migratory path of elephant herds. In this method, a stockade is made at a convenient place on the migratory route of the elephants just before their seasonal movement starts. A herd is located when still at some distance from the stockade and then driven vigorously from behind till it runs into the stockade and gets trapped.


In local parlance,"mela shikar" refers to hunting in the open i.e.,capturing of elephants in the forests without erecting a stockade. Essentially the method involves the chase of wild elephants by using trained elephants (koonkies) and noosing them when the opportunity arises. In fact, mela shikar is much more popular in N.E.India than the khedda. A variation of mela shikar is known as the "Gazali Shikar". Gazali refers to the young shoots of grasses that sprout up during pre-monsoon showers in May-June. Elephants are very fond of gazali and are attracted towards grassy patches wherever they are and provide a good opportunity to the mela shikaris.

3.1 Preparation For Mela Shikar

3.1.1 Mela shikar is usually practised in winters (October to March) with the exception of Gazali shikar which, as stated above, is carried out in May-June. Mela shikar is not done during the monsoon due to practical difficulties. The preparations for mela shikar, however, start much in advance.

3.1.2 A standard team for mela shikar consists of a koonki elephant, a phandi (an expert on noosing a wild elephant), a mahout and a kamla (i.e. a grass-cutter). Considering the uneven terrain and dense forests in N.E.India, comparatively smaller (7.5 feet to 8 feet in height) and swift moving elephants are preferred as koonkies. Cow elephants and Makhnas (tuskless elephants) are preferred to the tuskers. Koonkie elephants are specially trained to chase the wild elephants, help in noosing them and drag them to the depot. They are particularly trained to follow "foot commands" from their mahouts and to move silently during the entire capturing operation. The phandi and the mahout must have a complete understanding with each other as well as with the koonkie under their command. It is the duty of the kamla to look after the feeding and other requirements of the koonkie back at the camp.

3.1.3 Number of mela shikar teams is selected depending upon the number of wild elephants proposed to be captured -- usually one team of shikaris can take care of only two or three wild elephants during the season. Some big koonkies including tuskers are also required for handling the captured elephants at the depots and for imparting training to them.

3.1.4 In N.E. India jute ropes are used for elephant capturing as these cause minor and easily curable injuries to the elephants. Before the actual operation, ropes of different thickness, lengths and knots are prepared and kept in readiness.

3.2 Operation

3.2.1 As soon as an elephant herd is located, it is given a chase by two or more koonkies. The objective is to wear out the elephants or to force them towards a hilly region or a big river or any other area where their movements are restricted. A target elephant (usually in the height range of 5.5 feet to 7.5 feet) is selected and attempts are made to isolate the same from the herd. Once the target elephant is isolated, the phandi throws the "phand" (noose) over the neck of the elephant and tries to restrain it with the help of the koonkie.

3.2.2 During the entire operation, the phandi occupies the front seat on the elephant and the mahout controls the koonkie from its back. He also keeps watch on the other wild elephants when the phandi is busy with his quarry.

3.2.3 The captured elephant is then dragged to the training depot with the help of one or two koonkies. The captured elephant is treated for injuries, if any. It is handed over to the training koonkies. To begin with, two koonkies are needed to handle the wild elephant but after 8-10 days of training, just one koonkie is sufficient. The wild elephant remains at the depot for 3-4 weeks during which period, it is familiarised with human touch and voice through different rituals involving caressing and a recital of folk songs. It is also taught to follow the following four commands, viz., Dhaat (i.e. stand still ), Agait (I. e. walk forward), Pichhu (i.e. walk backward) and Cheyi (i.e. turn left or right). The wild elephant can now be handled without the help of koonkies and it is sent to the regular elephant camp where further training is imparted.

4. Comparison of Mela Shikar with Khedda

As stated earlier, mela shikar is more popular in the N. E. India than the khedda. Khedda involves very large expenditure and can be organised only near a saltlick or a known migratory path. Success rate of khedda is very low as compared to mela shikar. Mela Shikar is relatively cheaper and offers much more liberty regarding the area of operation, but it is not suitable for capturing elephants of big size (say, of the height above 7.5 feet ). Mela Shikar involves considerable risk for the phandi and the koonkie and cases of their getting injured or even killed are not uncommon. There is also a chance of the captured wild elephant getting suffocated if the knot of the noose is not correct. All said and done, mela shikar has become an art and a tradition with the people of N.E.India.

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